Saturday, August 02, 2008

Wainwright’s Wyre

Everybody’s heard of Alfred Wainwright, right? Old ‘A W’ as he was known to his friends? The famous author of the Lakeland Guidebooks who, across the course of his lifetime, must have climbed every mountain in Cumbria and then some? Born 1907? Died 1991? The BBC has recently rerun ‘Wainwright’s Walks’ based on his books, with the incredibly fit Julia Bradbury presenting? (What? What have I said now? She has to be fit if she’s going to climb mountains, doesn’t she? What d’ you think I meant?)
Well, if you haven’t heard of him it’s your own hard luck. However, for people like me, as a child growing up with the Cumbrian Mountains on the doorstep (admittedly that’d make my doorstep about thirty miles in width…but you get the point) Wainwright was a bit of hero. His pen and ink illustrations were inspirational, and his tongue in cheek humour lifted his books above those penned by more serious and, generally, less knowledgeable writers. What a lot of people don’t know is that Wainwright was also a bit of a fan of the Wyre. (This isn’t highly publicised. Incredibly little to do with the Wyre ever is.) In fact, he liked the place so much that he created a book of drawings dedicated to it. It was called ‘A Wyre Sketchbook’. (Perhaps not the catchiest title ever, but it suited the purpose). Want to see one of his drawings? We thought you might, so how about this instantly recognisable scrawl of the River Wyre Hotel, Skippool:

When we borrowed a copy of this little-known, seldom-read book several months ago, we forgot to scan in the caption that accompanied Wainwright’s illustration. Now we’ve got nothing else to say about it, other than: “Good, isn’t it?” (It’s perhaps as well we forgot to scan the words in, really. We're treading on thin ice with regards to plagiarism and copyright infringement here as it is. No point in making matters worse.)
It might be a good idea, therefore, if we posted the next illustration instead.

There we go. That’s the tower of St. Michael’s church (at St. Michael’s, obviously) in the background, with St, Michael’s bridge spanning the Wyre in the foreground (on the off chance that you hadn’t realised that already). Again, we didn’t scan in the caption to accompany this picture, so how about a bit more information about A. W. himself?
Alfred Wainwright was awarded the MBE for his guidebooks (although we’ve no idea in what particular year). He also collaborated with Derry Brabbs and Ed Geldard on another eight best-selling titles, was the chairman of ‘Animal Rescue, Cumbria’, created ‘A Coast to Coast Walk’ from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay, and after his death (obviously) had his ashes scattered on Haystacks. (That was his favourite mountain, incidentally…he didn’t actually have his ashes thrown randomly into bailed-up horse fodder.)
But enough of his background, let’s have another of his Wyre illustrations. (After all, that’s what you reading this for, isn’t it?):

“Where’s that?” you’re asking. (I have to be honest, it had me confused to start off with, as well.) That’s Bleasdale, that is, with a couple of ramblers taking their dog/pig/strange-creature-made-out-of-a-sawhorse-from-the-Wizard-of-Oz books, for a walk. (Wainwright might have been brilliant at drawing landscapes, but his figure illustrations left a lot to be desired, it must be said.)
There’s just space enough left for one last drawing, this time of Preesall. Not the view you’d expect, really. A. W. appears to have bypassed the more obvious Round House shot that makes Preesall immediately distinguishable from other Wyre villages, and opted for a rather more ordinary view at the end of Back Lane instead.

Not sure if that’s a fox crossing the road there. It might be the pig-dog from the previous picture. It’s certainly got character whatever it is.
Obviously there are lots more illustrations in the book, ranging from sketches of Fleetwood to drawings of Larbreck etc. However, we’ve trodden on the toes of the Wainwright Estate for long enough now (by way of a sampler, you understand…not as a total rip off) so we’d better end by recommending to our readers that they track down and purchase the complete book, and by apologising to A.W.’s current copyright holders if we’ve over stepped their generosity.


Jayne said...

I did, once, have Memoirs of a Fell Wanderer and only managed to briefly glance through it (and greatly enjoyed what I did read) before it was lent to someone who did a bunk and didn't boomerang it.
Love those sketches!

Brian Hughes said...


They're good, aren't they? I'm a big Wainwright fan. I've never actually done any of his walks. I'm far too lazy for that. But his books are excellent.

John said...

I wouldn't mind a good clean copy of that book meself. The sketcehs are lovely... simple at first, but you can see in a minute that he knew what he was doing. The animals aren't as bad as you say... his pen nib wasn't small enough to render them perfectly, but you can see movement in those figures! Dynamic and lively, and very hard to draw.

I've unfortunately been unable to capture that 'spontaneous' feel each and every time.

More of this in the future would be nice. Where is Bleasedale Circle in relation to that illustration? Is it the bumps between the trees, or the raised ground under the shrubbery, or out of the scene altogether?

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


I'm honestly not sure where the circle is in relation to the illustration. He did actually draw a proper one up of Bleasdale Circle itself, but I haven't scanned it in yet. Trouble is, I'm not sure if the book's still in print. If it is then we're probably in serious breach of copyright here...but I suspect if I leave it six months or so, then post a few more, nobody'll notice.

Ann O'Dyne said...

'Animal Rescue' huh?
He must have been alright then.

I think I read a Reginald Hill/Dalziel novel on Cumbrian mountain walking.

Ann O'Dyne said...

back now from the R.Hill bibliography. It was Fell Of Dark, 1971, the first Dalziel and Pascoe novel. When Fat Andy was really something in a very rough and ready way.
The books are all better than the TV show.

Brian Hughes said...


Michelle reads the Reginald Hill books. Then she makes me sit through the television programmes and points out where they differ from the original stories.

That's why I drink.

JahTeh said...

How about the really important stuff? How much money did the boot sale make? And more importantly, why didn't you put up photos for us to make bids on? You know Jayne and I can't resist buying all manner of bric-a-crap.

Brian Hughes said...


The carboot sale raised about £140 apparently. As soon as I get the chance (I'm in the middle of excavation reports at the moment) I'll post something about it...possibly.

"why didn't you put up photos for us to make bids on?"

I didn't realise you collected photographs.

JahTeh said...

Only nekkid good looking blokes and the Fylde and Wyre are short on those.

Brian Hughes said...

"nekkid good looking blokes" and "the Fylde and Wyre"...quite possibly the first time that combination of words has ever appeared in the same sentence.

The Actor said...


I'm sure that the book is out of print as the only copies that I see for sale are on ebay and for silly money. Needless to say, but I will anyway, that I don't own a copy.

I know that Fleetwood library have, or had until you perhaps got hold of it ;), in the reference section. I have read it.

I do have a couple of his books, though.

Keep "borrowing" the illustrations.

Brian Hughes said...


As you've probably gathered I've always been a big fan of A.W. so when I rediscovered this book in F'wood library I hired it out and photocopied large chunks of it. I'll post some more of these pictures at some point...just as soon as it's safe to assume the Wainwright Estate have overlooked this first lot.

Bwca said...

a hundred and forty quid?
keep on ROCKIN.

( obviously a Fine Woman)
and I,
know that only the very first D&P series was anything like the gloriously crass Andy of the books.

Brian Hughes said...

That'd be the series when he constantly seemed to be readjusting his jockstrap and scratching his hemmorhoids then, Annie.